Our Manchester team had returned from Cultnet 2016 with a thought-provoking experience that involves hard-work, laughers, road-trip adventures, new ideas and critical reflections (see the previous blogposts by Khwan and Nahielly). In my reflection, I will share some of my thoughts about two questions:
- What does it mean by being a PhD student?
- What is a good presentation?
Being PhD students, we have been working and thinking intensively most of the time. This triggers me to wonder what it means by being a PhD student; and what we want to experience/exercise, and evolve from through this PhD journey. Below, I share my reflection on two meaningful aspects of conference experience (and in particular, Cultnet 2016) for my PhD transformation.
Thinking and Interthinking
A Corridor in Durham Cathedral
Doing a PhD to me is like to construct and to furnish a ‘house’ with deep, rigorous, critical and creative thinking. In this process, attending conferences and listening to others’ presentations allow me to purposefully learn alternative or unconsidered/unexplored possibilities of understanding and (re)creating my house. I could intentionally identify and/or to search for answers to the puzzles of my own PhD by relating to the houses of others (e.g. the content, the creation and the reviews of their houses). In other words, conference experiences offers me an opportunity of interthinking with presenters and audiences, through which I could purposefully refine the shape and details of my PhD house, as well as develop a clearer and stronger articulation of it.
Cultnet meeting, with a community-original and thinking-friendly nature, had nourished my mind growing from the focused thinking to the open and mutually-enriched interthinking. To me, I found these conference-stimulated interthinking (in the forms of e.g. presenting and listening, Q&A or conversations afterwards) to be mostly inspiring for generating creative ideas.
Working and Networking
Following the above discussion on how conference experience such as Cultnet 2016 could shift my thinking to interthinking as well as supported my thinking with interthinking, I also found it very useful for enriching my working with networking. Networking with people who have shared interests allows me to think and to see from the outside of my work. It extends my learning resources as I share resources and collaborate with others. I am still very green in navigating my way through the complexities of networking. Maybe more reflection on this aspect will come up in my future conference reflections.
To summarise the above thoughts in relation to my first question, I think:
Being a PhD student, it means that we are involved in a multi-directional and multi-dimensional thinking exercise, in which we intentionally engage with resources and opportunities for evolving and transcreating our ways of thinking.
A Wall-painting in Durham Cathedral
What’s a good presentation?
Being thinking creatures and thought-creators, we care about the feedback (e.g. audiences’ questions, comments, reactions and body languages) to our creation. Sometimes, my judgement of the quality of my presentation could even be directly and fundamentally influenced by these feedback (as I couldn’t help it with a mindless status of mind). However, what is a good presentation? How do we self-evaluate the quality of our presentations? Below, I try to explore these puzzles by briefly comparing conference presentations with teaching, and PhD viva/defense.
Conference involves audiences with diverse levels and sub-interests. When giving a conference presentation, I should mindfully shift my expectation from enabling maximum understandings and knowledge/skill acquisition (as in teaching) to be thought-provoking in diverse levels and aspects for the audience. My evaluation of my presentation should move beyond the question of ‘Have the audiences understand my presentation fully?’ to ‘What possibilities of ‘interthinking’ (see my discussion above from the perspective of me being an audience) could my presentation enable for the audience?’ With these shift of ways of thinking, I would then not focus on considering to make a presentation simpler, but to make it more accessible and clearer in order to facilitate the interthinking between me/my work and my audiences. Richard also reminded me that, while the purpose of a conference presentation could be for thought-provoking, performing in a PhD viva requires us to be mindful to not provoking thoughts which are not in our control. This will still requires my thinking and practices on different shades of performing.
[Picture on the right side: A mosaic-window in Durham Cathedral – A bird-view of the last supper]
Returning to my second question, I think:
A good presentation is a performance with clear articulations of key ideas and consistent flows of logic, which offers a good stimulation of interthinking for the target audience.
* These are my working reflections at the current stage. I am open to the possibilities of changing, evolving, deconstructing and transcreating my understandings towards these puzzles.